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Liturgical vestments date back to the Essenes

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In her visions of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (1) Anne Catherine Emmerich (2) saw what she presumed to be four to five generations back before the time of Mary.

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Mary's parents (St Anne and St. Joachim), and their parents and grandparents, belonged to an ancient group known as the Essenes, (3) who lived in and around Mt. Horeb, (4) (a/k/a Sinai), west of the Red Sea.

Emmerich begins the story of Mary's life with a detailed description of how the Essenes lived, their spirituality, and their worship.

The similarities between the vestments worn over 2,000 years ago and those still used in the True Church today are interesting, to say the least. Did Christ instruct the apostles to use the same religious garb to which He was accustomed while raised among the Essenes?

According to Emmerich, the vestments worn hundreds of years before the birth of Christ were the same as those worn by Moses. Essene priests wore them during solemn religious services and while prophesying in the cave of Elijah on Mt. Horeb.

These vestments were composed of approximately eight pieces.

DALMATIC OR SCAPULAR

Amongst them was a very sacred relic, a sort of dalmatic or scapular, covering the breast and shoulders, which Moses had worn next to his body and had given to Aaron, from whom it had later descended to the Essenes. The prophet Archos, their head on Mount Horeb, always wore this dalmatic next his body when he was clothed in all his vestments and was praying for prophetic enlightenment.

Today, the dalmatic is not a part of daily liturgical garb but rather, a sleeved vestment used by a deacon at a Solemn High Mass. A tunic (chasuble) usually has one bar in the back, a dalmatic has two.

The description Emmerich gives, however, resembles the first piece of vestment that the priest puts on today, known as the "amice," from the Latin word "amictus" (wrapped around). It too covers the breast and shoulders. Rectangular in shape, it is composed of white linen and worn underneath the alb and tied down with two narrow straps at the waist.

The amice is worn to symbolize the blindfold used to cover Jesus’ eyes during the Passion.

The following prayer is said before dressing: "Place, O Lord, the helmet of salvation upon my head that I may overcome the assaults of the devil."

TUNIC OR ALB

Over his scapulary, the head of the Essenes wore a gray woolen tunic, and on this again a large full tunic made of white twisted silk, girt with a broad belt inscribed with letters.

Today, the alb, represents the white robe of mockery that Herod placed on Jesus during His Passion. As he dons the alb, the priest prays, "Cleanse me, O Lord, and purify my heart that being made white in the blood of the Lamb I may have the fruition of everlasting joy."

BELT OR CINCTURE
The broad belt to which Emmerich refers is similar to today's cincture. It is a symbol of purity, chastity, humility and mortification.

In the Mass, the cincture symbolizes the scourges that were used to torture Jesus. As the priest ties the cincture around his waist, he prays, "Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity and extinguish in my loins the desires of lust so that the virtue of continence and chastity may ever abide within me."

STOLE

He had a kind of stole round the neck, crossed over the breast, and it was held fast under the girdle and hung down below his knees. The stole was fastened with three straps above and below the place where it was crossed.

The name "stole" comes from the Latin term "stola," meaning, "garment." It symbolizes the rope that tied Jesus to the pillar. It is also worn during the administration of the other sacraments.

As the priest puts on the stole he prays, "Restore to me, O Lord, the stole of immortality which I lost by the transgression of the first parent, and although unworthy, as I draw near to Thy sacred mystery, may I be found worthy of everlasting joy."

CHASUBLE

On this he put a vestment not unlike a chasuble, which was also made of white twisted silk. The back side was narrow and came down to the ground; it had two bells attached to the lower hem, which tinkled with the priest’s movements and called the people to the service.

The front side was shorter and broader and open from the neck hole, downwards. This front part had large openings, on the breast and below it, through which the stole and undergarment could be seen. These openings were held together in places by fastenings ornamented with letters and precious stones. The front and back of this vestment were held together by strips of stuff under the arms. Round the neck was an upright collar, hooked together in front.

There are two kinds of chasubles worn for Mass today. The "Roman," or "Latin" (occasionally referred to as a "fiddleback"), sounds very similar to the chasuble described by Anne Emmerich.

Another type of chasuble is the "Gothic," which drapes loosely over the shoulders down to approximately the back of the calf. Both styles serve as a reminder of the purple robe placed on Jesus when He was mocked and crowned with thorns.

The priest prays the following as he slips the chasuble over his head: "Oh Lord, Who hast said, 'My yoke is easy and My burden light,' make me able to bear it that I may obtain Thy favor. Amen."

CLOAK OR COPE

Over all this he finally put on a little cloak of white twisted silk. It shimmered and shone and was fastened in front with three clasps ornamented with precious stones on which something was engraved. From both shoulders of his cloak there were fringes, tassels, and fruits hanging.

Emmerich describes a "little cloak" that is the final layer of the vestments. Though short in length, it sounds similar to the cope worn today for High Mass, Benediction and other special services. It, too, is often more elaborate than the chasuble, decorated with tassels and fastened in front with an ornate clasp.

MANIPLE AND HEADDRESS

Besides all this, he wore a short maniple on one arm. The headdress was, as far as I can remember, also of white silk, twisted into a round shape and padded, like a turban, yet resembling our priests’ birettas to a certain extent, for at the top it had ridges like theirs and also a tuft of silk. A little plate of gold set with precious stones was fastened over the forehead.

The maniple worn today is approximately 24 inches in length and bears a small cross where it folds over the left arm, and another cross at each end. It symbolizes the ropes by which Jesus was led during the Passion.

The prayer for application of the maniple is: "May I be worthy O Lord, so to bear the Maniple of tears and sorrow: that with joy I may receive the joy of my labor."

BIRETTA
Lastly, before entering the sanctuary for Mass, the priest places the biretta upon his head. It is square-shaped with three rounded edges, symbolizing the Crown of Thorns It is removed during Mass and reapplied as the priest once again exits the sanctuary.

____________________________

(1) e-Catholic 2000, "The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary," www.ecatholic2000.
(2) New Advent.com, "Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich," http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05406b.htm.
(3) New Advent.com, "Essenes," http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05546a.htm.
(4) New Advent, "Sinai," http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14011a.htm.

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